Recipe by Mark Pelliccia, chef and co-owner, 25Forty Bistro & Bakehouse
Many chefs cook the kind of food they like to eat. I am simple when it comes to the food I eat. Eggplant parmigiano is my favorite thing. Or a plate of spaghetti with good pesto. Some good bread and cheese and some cold cuts and wine and I am set. My favorite food is simple and comes from farms.
But I also have a sweet tooth and that led me to pastry, which is definitely not simple. It’s creative and fun. With pastry I love to mix flavors and temperatures and textures. I like the artistry, the sugar art, and the fruit carving. Now I am working on a cake for a bridal shower. It’s hard to have that much fun cooking steaks.
I got into cooking when I was ten because my family owned a restaurant and I helped out. I come from a big Italian family and food has always been important to us. When I was about 17, I wanted to go to cooking school in France, but no way would my parents let me go to Paris. We compromised and I went back to Italy, where I have dual citizenship. I worked in a place that didn’t pay much, but I learned a tremendous amount, and then I went to pastry school.
I left Italy because I got sick with cancer. I had a big tumor on my kidney and it took me out of work for a while. I wanted to go back home with my family, so I opened up 25Forty and the rest is history.
Below is my recipe for amazing pesto. But I have to start by saying that to really make this plate traditionally, you need to get the basil from Liguria, where pesto originates. There, the basil is thin and the pesto is so creamy. Prescinseua cheese is also from Liguria. It’s a fresh cheese with a short life span. [Ed. note: It’s a smooth, tangy acid-cured cows’ milk cheese with a texture halfway between ricotta and Greek yogurt.] You can substitute with fresh ricotta* but it’s not the same.
- 4 oz basil, leaves only
- 1 big clove garlic (or 2-3 smaller cloves)
- 1-2 oz pecorino romano cheese
- 2 oz parmigiano cheese
- 1 oz ( 2 Tb) walnuts
- 1 oz ( 2 Tb) pine nuts
- 8 oz (1 cup) olive oil (divided use)
- salt and pepper to taste
- 16 ounces fresh or dried pasta
- 3-4 oz potatoes, cut into 1-inch cubes (red or “new” potatoes work well)
- 10-12 string beans
- 2-3 oz prescinseua cheese (can substitute fresh ricotta)*
- freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
*Fresh ricotta is not the ricotta in plastic tubs at the supermarket. It may be found at some cheese shops and Italian delis.
HOW TO DO IT
Blanch the basil by dunking it in boiling water for about 20 seconds and then plunging it into ice water. This will keep your pesto from turning brown as quickly. Combine the garlic, pecorino romano, parmigiano, walnuts, pine nuts, and half of the oil in a food processor. Process until the mixture is well combined, somewhere between a paste and a sauce. Add the basil and additional olive oil until the pesto has the desired consistency. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Spoon the pesto into a jar as quickly as possible (Mason jars work well), covering the top with a tablespoon or two of additional olive oil to prevent the pesto from turning dark.
Cut the potatoes into 1-inch cubes. Fill a medium pot halfway with water, add the potatoes, and boil for about 30 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, prepare the pasta according to the package directions. While it is cooking, steam the string beans until tender.
When pasta is finished cooking, strain, place in a bowl, add the pesto, and mix. Plate the pasta and garnish with hot string beans, potatoes, a scoop of prescinseua or ricotta, and freshly grated pecorino romano cheese.